Fun Facts About the Monorail
¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!
These are the greatest words in the English Spanish language, as they signal your impending departure on the world’s greatest transportation. When Walt Disney prepared to construct his dream family vacation destination, he knew that he’d need something special to use as a permanent selling point. He eventually settled on the monorail, a means of travel that was virtually unknown in the United States at the time. More than 60 years later, these vehicles still stimulate the imagination. They are also inexorably linked with a visit to a Disney theme park. Here are a few fun facts about Disney monorails.
Walt Spoke Monorail, Not German
In the lead-up to Disneyland’s construction, Walt Disney toured the world in search of grand ideas, ones that he could recreate at the Happiest Place on Earth. During one of his voyages, he discovered the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn aka the Wuppertaler Suspension Railway. Wuppertaler is a city in Germany, and their electric railway is visually amazing to behold. Think of the monorail if it worked upside down. The tracks are at the top, and the train carts hang underneath them.
Uncle Walt was amazed by the technology. He promptly walked up to the workers and started asking for further details about the suspension railway. There was just one problem: he didn’t speak German! Despite the language barrier, Disney’s curiosity drove him to query total strangers about their mid-air rail system. Eventually, he found a translator and managed to get a detailed description of how the setup worked. In that moment, the founder of Disneyland determined that a version of this system would become the default transportation method at the upcoming theme park.
Lillian Disney’s Stomach Changed Everything
A debate exists about whether the Wuppertaler Suspension Railway is truly a monorail. It is the oldest transportation system of its kind, dating back to 1901, but it’s also not for everyone. To wit, when Walt Disney excitedly showed his wife, Lillian, this marvelous form of transportation that would transform Disneyland, she wasn’t enthusiastic. Specifically, she was sick to her stomach.
Like many people, Lillian Disney was susceptible to motion sickness, and the suspension railway is notorious for upset stomachs. It’s a hanging train system, and each train cart is vulnerable to the elements. A bit of wind causes the carts to rock in place. Similarly, tight turns inevitably make the carts sway back and forth. The ride experience is fine for most people, but the people it negatively impacts have nightmarish experiences. Lillian Disney happened to be one, and her motion sickness is the key to the current form of the monorail.
Having witnessed his wife’s suffering firsthand, Walt Disney wasn’t about to build a system that would jeopardize the health of his guests. The last thing that he wanted was for people to feel nauseous before they ever entered the parks. That’s a protein spill waiting to happen. To avoid such problems, Disney ruled out the hanging train system and instead designed a monorail where the train carts move over the tracks.
The Walt Disney World Monorail Is Second-Most Popular in the World
In Chongqing, China, a city with a population of 30.2 million people, the world’s most popular monorail system is in use. Called the Chongqing Rail Transit, it debuted in 2005 and immediately serviced a huge metro system population in western China. Prior to its introduction, the monorail system in place at Walt Disney World was the unquestioned world leader in terms of daily traffic.
The Orlando version of the monorail transports approximately 7,000 guests per direction each hour. In a single day, that adds up to about 150,000 monorail customers. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of monorails in use, but Walt Disney World’s system has a claim as one of the two most-used monorail systems in the world. And since Chongqing Rail Transit has standard fare rates, Disney’s version is the world’s largest free monorail service.
Monorails Can Go Faster Than You Think
A natural part of human behavior is to wonder how fast something can go. In the case of the monorail, you likely have modest expectations. For the motion sickness reason discussed previously, Disney doesn’t want to have their monorails zooming down the tracks like the Fast & Furious crew is driving them.
To avoid such concerns, Disney has capped the maximum speed of the monorails at 55 miles per hour. Park planners suggest that the average speed is 40 miles per hour, but even that may overstate the situation. Some parts of the monorail system go 15 miles per hour, which is basically bike-riding or jogging speed.
What you probably don’t realize is that monorail systems are capable of much more. Maglev trains are the fastest ground vehicles in the world, with recorded speeds of 375 miles per hour. Obviously, Disney’s monorails aren’t kitted out to have that type of velocity. However, Disney employees claim that during off-hours, drivers do experiment with top speeds. According to these people, the monorails at Walt Disney World are capable of speeds up to 70 miles per hour, which makes them potentially the fastest ride on the campus, surpassing Test Track’s 64.9 miles per hour.
The Monorails Have Gone Through Several Iterations
When you hear a term such as Mark VII or Mark VIII, you’re learning about the model version of the monorail train. The Mark I refers to the original line of monorail trains at Disneyland. In 1959, Walt Disney finally unveiled his new form of park transportation. For the time, they were absolutely amazing, but today we would look back at this fleet as cute.
The Mark I series had three-tram trains in basic colors of red and blue. It quickly garnered headlines as the first functional monorail system in the Western Hemisphere, but it wasn’t even a transportation system at the start. Instead, it was an E Ticket attraction at Disneyland!
The original goal of the monorail was to highlight the majesty of the park, giving riders a newfound appreciation of the beauty of Disneyland. Almost immediately, park planners recognized that they had miscalculated. The monorails were instantly, immensely popular, and guests wanted to use them to move around the park complex.
Disney quickly reconfigured the monorail to become the de facto form of transportation at the Happiest Place on Earth. This move required a quick refresh of the monorail fleet. The Mark II debuted in 1961, only two years after the original version. It was bigger, with four trams and a higher maximum occupancy. Impressively, this quick reboot of the first concept lasted eight years, a strong run for nascent technology.
In 1969, Disney threw out all the plans for monorail trams and reinvented the design. The Mark III at Disneyland and Mark IV at Walt Disney World were five-car trams capable of unprecedented throughput. Disneyland has since had two refreshes of their fleet, with the 2008 introduction of the Mark VII the most recent monorail line.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney World’s had unprecedented stability with their fleet. They’ve only had two lines, the Mark IV and the current Mark VI. In fact, the Mark VI has been in operation since 1989, nearly 30 years now. That’s far and away the longest lifespan for any monorail fleet to date. And yes, Disney’s aware of the fact that they’re in need of a new version. Rumors persist of a new line arriving by the park’s 50th anniversary, and other rumors suggest that prior to the end of their sponsorship agreement, Siemens offered to pay for and design an entirely new line of Disney monorails.
The fact that Disney turned down such a generous offer seems like support for the notion that they have something else planned for their flagship transportation line. That’s the beauty of the monorail system. Walt Disney recognized some innovative, modified it to meet his own needs, and then legitimized it over the past 60 years. As much as Space Mountain or Mickey Mouse, the monorail IS a symbol of a Disney theme park visit.